The Queerty Interview

Exclusive: John Lithgow On Playing Alfred Molina’s Hubby, Bears And The “Half-Won” Battle For Gay Rights

JLAlthough he’s straight and has been married for more than 30 years, actor John Lithgow also has a proud history of pioneering LGBT roles. Back in 1982, John Lithgow won acclaim and an OScar nomination for his vivid portrayal of the transgender character Roberta in The World According to Garp. These days, he returns to the screen as the self-described “adorable” 71-year-old husband of Alfred Molina’s character in haute-gay director Ira Sachs’ newest feature, Love Is Strange (opening in August). Queerty caught up with Lithgow at a STK Supper Suite party prior to the film’s Wednesday-night premiere.

Do you really believe that love is strange?

Some love is strange, but love is love, you know. This particular story, it’s about this couple that’s been together for 40 years. Any couple that’s been together that long is so symbiotically attached. Fred Molina and I play the couple. He’s been in a marriage for over 30 years, and so have I. We both know the joys and the occasional crises — the concord and the discord of marriage. That’s what it’s about.

Mr. Molina is kind of a hairy guy. Would you say he’s a bear?

He’s a bear all right. He’s a teddy bear. He’s just the most adorable man to work with.

How did your chemistry develop with him?

It was automatic. We were already very good friends, although we’d never worked together. We just had great mutual friends and mutual admiration. I’d been backstage at a lot of plays that he was in, and he visited me backstage on occasion. We talked on the phone when I was offered the role, and then he said yes.

Had you seen Ira Sach’s previous feature Keep The Lights On?

Yes, I had. And his other two. He’s a rare bird among American filmmakers. His films are really very simple but very true. There’s no fireworks, there’s no theatrics, even to the acting. He doesn’t like a lot of fireworks. He just likes the drama of real life.

LoveIsStrange400Alfred’s character loses his teaching job because you two get married. What’s your character like?

I’m a painter. I’m a fairly useless character, but very adorable and very irritating.

Do you think it’s still hard to be out at work?

I think the battle is half-won, if that. But I think movies like this are important, because they take gay marriage and an out lifestyle as a given. It’s not a great drama; it’s not about winning wars. It’s not the great gigantic struggles of The Normal Heart or of Philadelphia. With films about gay men, you’re accustomed to the high drama of years of courageous fighting. This is getting a new apartment, getting a new job. It simply accepts these people. And I think acceptance is at the heart of this film.